Report: Mac sales off 6% in January; iPod off 14%

February 17, 2009, 10:25 PM UTC

January was a slow month for Apple (AAPL) — even slower than Wall Street thought it was going to be.

Mac unit sales were down 6% compared with last January, according to NPD data released Tuesday. iPod sales fared even worse, down 14% year to year.

The Street was expecting Mac sales to be off by only 4% and iPod sales off 11%, according to Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster.

In a report to clients issued Tuesday afternoon, Munster estimated that Mac sales for the March quarter (Apple’s second fiscal quarter) will be somewhere between 2 and 2.2 million units. iPod sales should come in around 9 to 10 million units.

Putting an optimistic spin on the data, as he is wont to do, Munster saw the Mac numbers as “a neutral or slight positive” given the general uncertainty about the whole economy this quarter.

But, he adds, February and March could be “a tough comparison” for the Macintosh, because Mac sales last February were bolstered by the launch of the MacBook Air. There is no comparable MacBook launch expected this February.

Munster also found something to cheer about in the iPod numbers, even though he now expects unit sales to fall 6% to 15%  by the end of the quarter. “Given concerns regarding iPod  weakness,” he writes, “we believe the segment’s in-line performance relative to  Street expectations is a positive.” He was also pleased by the average price for iPods in January, which was up 4%. He had expected it to fall 3%.

Acknowledging that it’s difficult to extrapolate iPod sales prices from one month of NPD data, Munster thinks they may have risen because the contribution of higher-priced iPod touches in the mix “may exceed our expectations in the Mar quarter.”

Munster maintains a buy rating on Apple shares with a target of $180, one of the highest in the business. The stock closed Tuesday at $94.53, down 4.67% for the day.